Arabian Knight

Chapter 11

Baghdad - 1258

"The one who rescued Demarcus from death, was a two-hundred year old vampire named Yoshi. He was of Japanese decent, a teacher during his time as a mortal. His studies and travels throughout strange lands, brought him in contact with the magic box, and like Demarcus, during a moment of crisis, he had made a wish not to die. At the time, he did not fully understand the workings of the curious puzzle. But over the centuries, he was able to track it from place to place and study the lives of those it touched. He learned much of how and when it performed its miracles. He knew that the puzzle itself picked who it wanted to give itself to. Not everyone could solve it. Once the puzzle had chosen, it gave that person one full cycle of the moon in which to unravel its secrets three times and make requests. The first time, the puzzle is solved very quickly, almost on its own. The second time, takes a bit longer -- perhaps a full day -- and the third, can take many days and nights.

"Hearing all this, Demarcus realized that he still had one wish coming to him and he had already decided that he would use it to help free his enslaved people. Still, he wasn't quite sure how to go about it. After all, he had wished freedom for himself and looked what happened. Yoshi explained to Demarcus about his new life, how powerful he was now and how the two of them working together could rescue the slaves without the use of magic. He offered to help Demarcus free his people if he agreed to use his last wish as Yoshi asked. You see, although Yoshi treasured certain aspects of his immortality, he missed some of the joys he once experienced in life. He wished to be able to walk in the light of day again, and he wanted to be able to eat real food instead of existing only on the blood of others." Shalimar paused in her storytelling and looked at her audience thoughtfully. "Would you wish for such a thing if it were possible, or are you satisfied the way you are?"

"What does it matter?" Nicholas coldly retorted. "I accept what I've become. Wishing won't make it go away. Besides, it's only a story. There is no such magic box."

"I admit that I have not seen it for myself, but that does not mean it does not exist."

"Then it's too bad you don't have it. You could wish for me to spare your life."

"You said that as long as my story entertained you, I would not be harmed. Do you find the tale boring? Would you like me to tell another? Or perhaps a song would please you more."

The vampire was beginning to get hungry, but he decided that he could wait a little while longer. He hoped she wasn't that far from the end. "Finish the story," he growled impatiently. "And don't take all night."

Shalimar nodded politely and continued. "As I have stated, Yoshi wanted Demarcus to make a wish on his behalf so that he could become a bit more...human. From experience, he knew that he would not be allowed to make any more wishes of his own again. He would have to depend on someone else making a wish for him. Yet in all his years of following the trail of the magic box, this was the first time he was in a position to take full advantage of someone else's opportunity. But first, he had to fulfill his side of the bargain. Quickly, he explained to Demarcus how to make use of his new powers. The fledgling vampire now had the strength of five men, the speed of the fastest Arabian horses and the ability to see in the dark. Other new gifts would make themselves known and increase with time, but for now, Demarcus had what he needed to rescue his people."


"Nick? Nick!"

The sound of his name being called along with a gentle shake of his shoulder, was enough to bring Nick back to reality and focus on the person sitting on the couch next to him. "I'm sorry, Nat. What were you saying?"

"Doesn't look like it's going to work for me," said Nat as she held the puzzle box out to him. He took it from her and glared at the cube as he turned it about casually in his hands.

"I figured as much," Nick sighed mildly. "Didn't hurt to try though."

"Are you positive all that wasn't just a dream? A bad dream, mind you, but still--"

"If only it had been. But I can remember every detail with crystal clarity. You've met Tracy Vetter, haven't you?"

"Yeah. Schanke introduced her to me. She's very pretty."

"And very tall and very blonde, and makes you think, what if Barbie dolls became police detectives."

Natalie snickered lightly. "Yeah, well, that would be a good description for Tracy. So I guess, it really did happen then."

"Explains why the puzzle is all scrambled up again. Explains how I can describe someone I've never really met. At least to her, it would seem that we've never met."

"But it's still hard to believe that you were able to actually change history with just a few spoken words."

"I guess that's why they call it magic."

"So what now? Apparently, it's not going to let me solve it. Should we ask Schanke to try when he gets back in town?"

"I don't know. Schanke has been more than just a tad leery of this thing from the start. I wouldn't want to ask him to do anything he'd be uncomfortable with. Besides, I think he'd probably be too afraid to even touch it, afraid of making things worse. And my guess is that he probably tried to solve it when he first took possession of it, but never got anywhere. It chose me, Nat. I don't believe that anyone close to me will be allowed to solve it anyway."

"What about Tracy? You said that she was able to get somewhere with it. Maybe it'll work for her. Then we could get her to wish for a cure for cancer and be done with it."

"Maybe. But we probably shouldn't depend on it." Nick placed the cube onto the coffee table, then draped an arm about Natalie's shoulders and drew her into his embrace. Her head nestled against his cheek, and he kissed her hair as her warmth comforted him and he reveled in the simple fact that she was alive and well in his arms.

"So it's a good thing that we went ahead with the chemotherapy after all."

"I can't say I'm looking forward to more treatments though."

"I know it was pretty unpleasant for you, but unfortunately, it's the best modern medicine has to offer right now."

"Yeah, I know," Nick sighed despondently. After a moment of silent contemplation, he spoke softly into Natalie's hair. "What if it doesn't work?"

He felt Nat stiffen in his arms at the disturbing question. "We can't think that way, Nick. We have to think positive."

"Yes,'s been eight hundred years, Nat. What if that's all the time I've been allotted? Maybe what LaCroix said to me in a dream is true. Perhaps I was meant to live forever, or not at all. Either I live for all eternity as a vampire or I die now as a mortal."

Nat pulled away from his embrace and turned to face him eye to eye. "What are you saying, Nick? You want to go find LaCroix or Janette and have one of them turn you back into a vampire?"

"No, that's not what I want," Nick responded emphatically. "I never want to go back to that existence again."

"Then you're saying you're ready to die?"

"No, I'm not ready to die, Nat. On the contrary; I'm ready to start living. But I'm not so sure if that's what fate has in store for me. I've read some of the articles in those medical journals you've been studying. I've seen the survival rate for what I have, and the odds aren't all that encouraging. Already, the chemotherapy that's suppose to help cure me, instead, caused me to go into cardiac arrest. And, the research states that I'm more likely to die from infection due to a weakened immune system caused by the drugs, than from the disease itself. So, I guess what I'm saying is...with or without the chemo, I don't believe I have much time left. And if that's true, then I'd rather not spend whatever time I have remaining, drugged to the gills, sleeping twenty hours a day, too weak to even hold you in my arms."

"Oh, I see." A combination of fear and resentment instantly blossomed in Natalie's mind, driving her to stand up and put some distance between herself and her husband. It had sounded very much as though Nick was throwing in the towel, unwilling to give himself every opportunity necessary to reclaim his good health. Natalie folded her arms across her chest and began a slow pace about the room as she sought to put her thoughts into words.

"You know what I think, Nick?" Natalie asked, her voice tight with tension. "I think you're afraid. No! Let me rephrase that. I think you're a coward! You're use to being physically superior, of swatting off bullet wounds and never having a need for a medicine cabinet. Headaches and fevers and upset stomachs are new to you. Frightening even. You don't know how to cope. You talk about how much you want to be mortal, but you're not willing to take the good with the bad. Now, I will admit that mortality does have its drawbacks, with the probability of illness and the inevitability of death being at the top of the list. But, hey, that's life!" her voice went up a couple of notches in volume as she turned away from Nick and faced the window. "Most people cling to it tenaciously. They take whatever steps necessary to survive, to extend their lives for as long as they possibly can. Even if it takes months of medication, radiation, transfusions, hospitalization, and puking their guts out until there's nearly nothing else left except the desire to see the sun rise one more time. They don't just give up when the going gets a little--"

Nat abruptly brought an end to her ranting when she turned back around and caught the dismal expression on Nick's face as he hung his head down in bitter remorse. Natalie quickly crossed the room and dropped to her knees in front of him. She grasped his face with both hands and gently forced him to look up at her. Seeing that his eyes were brimming with unshed tears, Nat modified the tone of her voice to soothe and comfort rather than accuse and condemn.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean.... Nick, I know you don't like being an invalid. No one does. But, the chemotherapy is our best bet for getting you well. I know it's unpleasant, and I know you're having a hard time with the side-effects, but we've got to give it a fair chance. Don't worry about the survival rates listed in some medical journal. You've got just as much a chance to make it as anyone else. But you have to want it, Nick. You have to work at it. You've got to continue the treatments. We've got to work to get you into remission because you've got a lot to look forward to. We've still got that big, beautiful wedding to plan, and that endless honeymoon to go on, and those kids you've got to pass on those good looks to. None of that will happen if you allow yourself to give up too soon. Am I getting through to that thick, beautifully, hairless skull of yours?"

He heard her words, but his own fears still led the way in his mind. "You're right, Nat. I _am_ a coward. I'm not used to enduring physical pain. I don't like it. I hate this feeling of utter helplessness, of having to depend so heavily on others. And I hate seeing what all this is doing to you. I've given you nothing but grief. You deserve so much better."

"You're the one I want, Nick. For better or worse, in sickness and in health. Weren't you paying attention?"

Nick managed a small smile at that "Yes. I'm sorry, Nat. I must have forgotten for a moment, but I promise, I won't forget again."

"Good." They started to share a kiss, but Nat caught herself, realizing the threat of passing on harmful bacteria that Nick had little defense against. Instead, she averted her lips from his mouth and brushed his cheek lightly with hers then swooped her arms around him for a comforting hug.

Nick groaned mildly against her hair. "I feel like a little kid who's been given his own candy store but suddenly became deathly allergic to sweets."

"Well, if you'll be a good little boy and take all your medicine, then maybe we can get rid of that allergy so you can have all the candy you want."

"Sounds like a plan."

Although modern medicine seemed to be his only recourse, Nick couldn't help but give a little more thought to the magic puzzle. He hadn't really planned on asking, but was thankful just the same when Schanke volunteered to try to solve the puzzle for him. When he had no luck with it, he in turn asked his new temporary partner, Tracy Vetter. He didn't bother to explain anything, just watched her like a hawk as she struggled to make heads or tails of the interesting cube for over an hour. Schanke was all for going through the whole precinct in order to find someone the puzzle would respond to, but Nick told him not to bother. It was obviously a waste of time. The magic cube would pick who it wanted to give its wishes to, only when it was good and ready. Nick thought about throwing the puzzle away, but decided to hold on to it a bit longer, knowing that somehow, when the time was right, the mystical cube would easily find its way into the hands of its next master.

With no magical intervening to count on, Nick had to deal with his illness on a normal, one-day-at-a-time basis. Since he didn't like being cooped up in his bedroom, and couldn't get as comfortable as he would have liked to on the couch, arrangements were made to have a fully adjustable, hospital bed delivered, and set up in the living room, near the window. The remote controls to the stereo, TV, and electronic window shutters, were kept close at hand for the times when Nick was awake and alert enough to even care what was going on outside his window or on the TV screen. Some days were better than others. One day, the nausea and vomiting would make him wish he were dead, and the next, he could eat and drink with no ill effects. A sudden high fever was cause for alarm, and triggered a two day return to the hospital, a barrage of tests, a new type of antibiotic and one blood transfusion. Nick had never been clear on all the details of the new complication. He only went by the expressions on his wife's face. Once the worrying lines creasing her brow had faded, he knew that he was out of danger. He was soon back home, starting his recuperation all over again.

As the side-effects of the chemotherapy lessened, and his strength began to return, Nick sought out the self-help group that his doctor had recommended. He met with other patients, some much younger, and a few, a bit older than himself. He listened to their stories of how much pain and suffering they'd had to endure and how much more they expected to endure before reaching their goal of a complete cure. It was hard keeping a positive attitude at first, but seeing the faith and grim determination that the other members of the group possessed, made Nick feel guilty even considering a magical solution to his problem. If they could do it, then he could at least give it a shot.

In the weeks that followed, Nick was given added encouragement to get well when Natalie announced that she was pregnant. The welcoming news definitely had a positive effect on Nick's mental -- if not physical -- well-being. Just the thought of impending fatherhood boosted his spirits and made the uncertainty surrounding his health easier to handle. He felt that God or fate would not be so cruel as to offer him such a precious gift, then not allow him to survive long enough to enjoy it. Not that he didn't already have enough to live for, but with a baby on the way, Nick was more determined than ever to beat his disease.

Following his most recent set of tests, Nick sat with Natalie in the doctor's office, across from Dr. Graham, anticipating some positive news. The doctor had greeted them pleasantly upon seeing them again and gave no outward indication that there was anything to worry about.

"I hear you've got a little one on the way," said Dr. Graham cheerfully. "Congratulations."

"Thank you," said Nat, unable to control her delighted blush.

"I take it, conception occurred before the chemo, right?"

"Yes, it did," Nat answered the doctor's question, knowing that he was concerned about possible birth defects that the chemotherapy might cause.

"Is what I have hereditary?" Nick asked. "Will our child end up...."

"I wouldn't worry about it," the doctor told him. "There's no evidence to indicate that AML is passed on genetically."

Nick nodded, then glanced at Nat who mouthed the words, 'I told you so.' He smiled and gently squeezed her hand. "It doesn't hurt to hear it twice."

"So, Mr. Knight, how have you been feeling lately?"

"Pretty good, actually. Not exactly a hundred percent back to normal, but stronger and a lot less discomfort than before."

"Good. Glad to hear it. That means the side-effects are wearing off." The doctor opened up the file folder that lay in front of him on his desk. "Got the results back on your latest set of tests," he said, his gaze darting from the file to Natalie, then finally resting on Nick. "I'm afraid I don't have great news for you. There's no sign of remission. Of course, I'm not completely surprised by that, considering that we had to cut your treatment short. What does bother me, however, is the fact that the cancer appears to be spreading. We found a few errant cells in your spinal fluid."

"I take it, that's not good," said Nick, effectively keeping a reign on his desire to panic.

"No, not a good thing, really," Dr. Graham replied with a calm and steady voice which belied the seriousness of his words. Years of dishing out bad news had not made it any easier for the doctor, but he did what he could to soften the blow. "But it's not exactly the end of the world, either," he added optimistically. "You know, Mr. Knight, some people with this disease, come in and do remarkably well with their very first session. Then you have others, such as yourself, who have to work a lot harder and a lot longer before achieving positive results. You understand what I'm saying?"

Nick nodded. 'Positive attitude, positive attitude.' He told himself to keep thinking those words. "So I go back for more chemo, right?"

"That's the general idea. However, I'm also thinking that you might benefit greatly from a bone marrow transplant, that is, if we can locate a suitable donor. So I think it's a good idea if you'd ask any relatives or friends or even casual acquaintances if they'd be willing to come in and be tested on your behalf."

"I can make some phone calls," said Natalie. "I'm sure we can get some of the guys from the precinct to try out."

'That'll be great," the doctor smiled. "Now, about the chemo, Mr. Knight, I've been discussing your case with a colleague of mine in Atlanta. He's been treating some patients with a new, experimental drug. From what he's told me, I believe that perhaps you might make a good candidate for the trial studies he's conducting."

"What are you saying?" Natalie spoke up, her voice etched with deep concern. "Are you saying you want to use Nick as a guinea pig?"

"Well, in essence, yes. He would be an essential part of testing the benefits of the new drug. It has been shown to work quite effectively in lab animals and there has been success with human subjects as well. More data, of course, is needed before it's released for wide scale use. But don't get me wrong, Mrs. Knight. I'm not saying that the drugs already out there for use couldn't work for your husband. However, we've already established that he's a little overly sensitive to the cytarabine, which lead to the problems with his heart stopping. But we were giving him the maximum dosage at the time, and it's quite possible that he would respond better at a reduced dosage over a longer period of time."

"Or not," Nick chimed in. "You don't really think that I should be given the cytarabine again, do you?"

The doctor was slightly hesitant on expressing his true thoughts. Finally, he shook his head and said, "To be frankly honest, no. You didn't do very well the first time around and my gut instincts are telling me, that you probably won't do any better the second time. I believe we should consider going another route. As I said, there are other drugs that might be more suitable. The only reason I brought up the trial study is because you do fit the criteria of age, relative weight and previous good health. I can give you more information and you can decide for yourself if you'd like to participate."

Nick had already heard what the doctor was so cleverly not saying. It would appear that without a bone marrow transplant, his best bet for survival was a newly developed drug with a meager track record. He would have to become a test subject in order to determine the viability of a new cancer treatment which may or may not save his life. Even if the drug failed him, Nick realized that his limited contribution would help in the ongoing fight against cancer. That reason alone was enough to get him to agree. Still, he wouldn't do it without Natalie's consent, so he looked to her for an answer.

"What do you think, Nat?"

"Well, I'd like to find out more details, of course," Nat addressed her response to the doctor. She wasn't happy at all to discover that their options seemed to be narrowing. Then she looked to Nick and saw a certain something in his eyes that she couldn't quite make out. But one thing was evident; she could tell that Nick had already decided to go with the experimental treatment. It wouldn't be the first time he'd tried grasping at straws. Natalie prayed that it wouldn't be the last.

The week long search for a bone marrow donor produced hundreds of volunteers willing to offer their services, but unfortunately no one even came close to being a suitable match. That left the experimental treatment in Atlanta. Nick had been given the e-mail addresses of two other patients who had undergone the same treatment and was encouraged to write and ask them questions concerning their experiences with the new drug. He decided against contacting the strangers, however, because he felt it was enough to know that they had been helped by the drug; he didn't need to hear what horrors it may have put them through first. Knowing that there were two success stories out there, he couldn't help but wonder how many others had not been so lucky. He still wanted to believe that there was a miracle waiting for him in Atlanta, but as the time drew nearer for his trip down south, Nick began to lose confidence in his ability to find a cure. He finally came to the conclusion that he was mortal. And mortals die everyday. He realized that his day might be coming very soon and that he needed to be prepared.

Discussions about wills and funeral arrangements didn't go over very well with Natalie, who seemed to feel that negative talk such as that was detrimental to one's health. Nick pretended to agree with her, but secretly made a few phone calls and handled things neatly without his wife's knowledge. He considered getting a video camera to tape himself as a gift to his child when he or she was old enough to start asking what their father was like. But after taking a good look at himself in the mirror, Nick decided against that idea. He wouldn't want to frighten the kid. He barely recognized himself anymore. He bore little resemblance to the man who showed up in Toronto a few years ago and named himself Nick Knight. He wondered how Natalie could bare to even look at him anymore, much less feed, bathe and dress him during the rougher periods of his illness. 'Through sickness and in health,' he reminded himself. He had to let her know how much he truly loved and treasured her. He decided to do so with paper and pen. It seemed to take forever to find all the right words to express both his love and gratitude. Once he finished writing the letter, he sealed it with a kiss, then went on to pen several others.

When the time came, Schanke drove his friends to the airport. Nick managed to walk through the main doors under his own power, but didn't complain when Natalie grabbed one of the airport's complimentary wheelchairs and insisted he conserve his energy. While Nat went to the ticket counter to sign them in, Schanke wheeled Nick over to a relatively quiet seating area where they could say their good-byes. Nick pulled down the surgical mask covering his face so he could speak unencumbered.

"Should you be taking that off?" Schanke asked with concern. "All these people and the out of town germs floating around."

"Just for a moment," said Nick. "I'll be all right. I just wanted to thank you for all your help these past couple of months."

"Ahh, it's no big deal. I just wish you'd hurry up and get well. I need my partner back. Nothing against Tracy, mind you, but you and me, Nick. You have to admit, we were pretty good together."

"Yeah, we were," Nick agreed with a genuine smile. "I miss that."

"Yeah, me too. But we'll get it back. You'll see."

Nick reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a set of car keys. He looked at them fondly for a moment, then dangled them in front of Schanke's face. "Take care of the Caddy for me, will you?"

"Hey, it'll be my honor," said Schanke as he accepted the keys with a huge grin on his face. He remembered complaining to Nick numerous times about using the classic Cadillac convertible as a police car, but he had to admit to himself that he'd missed riding around in it.

"There's a card in the glove compartment with the name of the mechanic who works on it for me. Anytime you need anything done to it, just give him a call. There won't be any charge. Everything's been prearranged."

"What do you think I'm gonna do? Wreck it my first time out? Hey, I know I did that before, but it wasn't my fault. The car had been tampered with."

"I know, I know. It's just in case."

"Okay. Well, I'll be extra careful with it."

"And, Schanke, in case I don't come back--"

"In case you what?" Schanke observed his friend carefully and noted the way Nick quickly averted his eyes. "Nick, you're coming back." Schanke said it more as a command than a suggestion. "Look, I know you're scared. Hell, I'm scared for you. But this new treatment is going to work. You are going to get well and you are coming back to the force and we'll ride around in your Caddy and catch bad guys together again. You got that?"

Nick returned his gaze to his partner and forced himself to smile. "I got it, Schanke. But just in case...would you look after Nat and the baby for me?"


"Schanke, please," Nick stopped his friend from interrupting. "Financially, they won't have anything to worry about. I have quite a lot saved up. But emotionally, they'll need someone in their lives who can be there for them. You and Myra are the only ones I can think of. Maybe...maybe I will pull through this okay, but if I don't, I'll just feel better knowing my family won't be all alone."

"You know you didn't even have to ask, don't you?" said Schanke in a serious tone. "I'm your partner, remember?"

Nick nodded. "I remember. Thanks, Schanke. For everything."

"You wanna thank me, just get yourself well, Nick. That's all the thanks I'll need. Now put that back on," Schanke pointed to the protective mask, which Nick obediently moved back into its proper position covering his mouth and nose.

Natalie arrived seconds later with the news that everything was set and that they needed to head to the departure gate. She gave Schanke a big hug and a kiss on the cheek as she promised to call as soon as they reached their destination. When he pulled away from Nat, Schanke turned his attention once again to Nick. He really would have liked to give his pal a hug too, but the man in the wheelchair looked so fragile, Schanke was afraid he might damage him with an embrace. He settled, instead, for patting his friend gently on the shoulder.

"So...I'll see you when you get back, Nick."

"Yeah, Schanke. I'll see you when I get back."

Schanke could see it clearly in those overly shiny, blue eyes that Nick didn't believe his own words. It was obvious that the man truly expected that this meeting would be their last.

"Don't worry, partner, I'll look after everything for you. I promise."

"Thanks, Schanke. You're a good friend."

Schanke passively stood and watched Natalie wheel her husband down the busy terminal. Once they were completely out of sight, he looked down at the car keys he still held in his hand, and finally realized that their owner had no plans for ever retrieving them. Schanke wiped the palm of his other hand across his eyes before the tears he felt welling up had a chance to escape. If he allowed himself to cry it would be like admitting that Nick was right. But he wasn't, couldn't be. He would be back behind the wheel of his Caddy in no time.

"Yeah...see ya later, Nick."


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